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Tag Archives: JobKeeper

Unemployment down, but recovery still way off: ACTU

Any cries from the Morrison government championing the gains in unemployment figures being tied to a greater economic outlook has a premature ring to it, Australia’s union movement said on Thursday.

As the nation’s unemployment figures fell by 0.2 per cent to 6.6 per cent for the month of December, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said that despite 50,000 people returning to work in 2020’s final month, 900,000 people are still looking for work with another 1.2 million being in search of more hours.

“The recovery means nothing for the more than two million workers who are still looking for a job or for more hours, this government is leaving millions of people behind,” said Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s president.

“We have heard a lot about economic recovery, but for many Australians this is still completely out of reach,” O’Neil added.

The ACTU’s general assessments are shared by Labor MP Brendan O’Connor, the shadow minister for employment.

“Labor welcomes any additional job to the labour market,” O’Connor said on a doorstop interview in Melbourne on Thursday.

“It’s really important now, at a time when many Australians are finding it very difficult to find work or to find enough work, that we see opportunities in the labour market, and there’s been some modest signs of that.

“But there’s still a very long way to go,” he added.

The hurdles which the government has yet to clear consist mainly of the unemployment rate and a state of wage growth having been stagnant under seven years of consecutive LNP governments.

“There’s over 15 percent of Australians that are either looking for more work, or looking for any work and not being able to find it. And that needs to be therefore the goal of the government to look after those workers who are underemployed, unemployed, and also deal with the persistent low wage growth,” O’Connor said.

“We have people even when they are employed are finding it difficult to make ends meet, because of the very, very low wage growth,” he added.

And the solutions to those issues are not simple ones, either, according to O’Connor – especially when the Morrison government continues to stand by its failed and doomed initiatives with blind faith.

“What we’ve seen from this government is it’s very happy to help some, but not help everyone,” O’Connor said.

For example, the JobMaker initiative announced by the government last year was to help people recover after the end of JobKeeper. However, no worker over the age of 35 will be provided any support in looking for work, now or indeed when JobKeeper ends” at the end of March, O’Connor added.

Both O’Connor and O’Neil share the similar view that one stopgap for the economy lies within the JobKeeper and JobSeeker subsidies: extend them beyond their current planned March 31 expiry dates.

“For those hundreds of thousands of Australians that are reliant on JobKeeper, for those thousands and thousands of businesses that are reliant on JobKeeper, they have only ten more weeks before that support ends,” O’Connor said.

“And so it’s Labor’s view, and others for that matter, that there may well be many Australians that will find themselves unemployed at the end of JobKeeper, and we advise the government to properly consider extending JobKeeper for those sectors of the economy that have still been very hard hit as a result of this pandemic,” he added.

“Many sectors still badly affected by the pandemic, such as tourism, aviation and universities, are being left struggling and without support,” said O’Neil.

Further to these points, O’Neil says that the current government lacks vision to fix the economic problems brought on by the multiple crises of the global COVID-19 pandemic and a resulting once-in-a-generation national recession that Australia still finds itself in the grips of, despite recent modest gains.

“A genuine recovery from the pandemic and the associated recession requires sector support, job creation and wage growth.

“It is more important than ever for the government to look after working people, not set them back by cutting JobSeeker payments and ending JobKeeper,” added O’Neil.

“The federal government needs to do more,” O’Connor concurred.

Employment minister Michaelia Cash, whose shortcomings to adapt JobActive since February have been exposed (Photo from abc.net.au)

O’Connor also points out a significant statistical shift in existing employment advocacy programs which the government and its employment minister Michaelia Cash has failed to address in adapting its programs to the changes within rising unemployment numbers and the jobs culture as a whole.

O’Connor singled out the JobActive program, citing that it has doubled in size – from 700,000 users to 1.4 million – since February and pre-pandemic times.

“There’s been no proper examination of the effectiveness and efficacy of the Jobactive program. That needs to be attended to and examined by the government,” O’Connor said.

“But what that really says is there are many, many Australians whilst they are employed, they’re not employed with sufficient hours so they are still engaged with employment services seeking to find new work, more work, so that they can make ends meet,” he added.

O’Neil and the ACTU, meanwhile, point out that the dichotomy of the Morrison government languishing in a still-struggling economy amid cutting the JobKeeper and JobSeeker subsidies and pushing its proposed industrial relations reform legislation possesses counter-productive effects towards backing its ultimate claims that the economy is recovering.

“The Morrison government’s plans to cut income support and introduce industrial relations legislation which cuts workers’ pay and conditions will worsen unemployment, increase insecure work and further drive down wage growth,” O’Neil warned.

 

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Now is not the time for subsidy cuts, says ACTU

The timing of cuts to government welfare subsidy programs such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper still lacks an appropriate nature at the start of 2021 as the Australian economy still lags in times of a recession, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said in its New Year’s message.

Addressing the nation’s workforce, and speaking specifically to the plight of the unemployed, under-employed and those labouring in insecure jobs, Scott Connolly, the ACTU’s assistant secretary, said that while unemployment rates remain high, the Morrison government going ahead with its cuts to subsidy packages takes much-needed money out of the hands of those who can best boost the nation’s flagging economy.

Initially lauded for introducing subsidies to help the suddenly-unemployed when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March, the government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison and federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg has proceeded to slash JobSeeker recipients’ coronavirus subsidy from its original $550 per fortnight to complement the old NewStart base rate of $559.00 per fortnight, to $250 per fortnight as of 25 September to $150 per fortnight effective their first full fortnightly reporting interval in 2021.

Connolly cites that living on an average of $51.20 per day after the most recent cut leaves JobSeeker recipients struggling even further to spend money on life’s necessities of rent, bills, and groceries, let alone anything beyond them.

“After a year spent battling bushfires and surviving a pandemic, the last thing Australians should have to worry about now is how they will pay their bills or put food on the table,” Connolly said on Friday.

The JobKeeper subsidy is also meeting the government’s machete chops, to the tune of $100 per fortnight, taking it to $1000 per fortnight for workers that had performed part- or full-time positions, or $650 per fortnight for those working under 20 hours per week.

And Connolly stresses that the cuts add up, especially for those who had been used to the struggles of their normal everyday lives.

“For many Australians, the JobKeeper coronavirus supplement meant that for the first time, they were able to eat three meals a day, or purchase much-needed medications,” Connolly said.

“To take that away from them now as this difficult year draws to a close is both callous and heartbreaking,” he added.

As reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) last month in its November figures, the national unemployment rate continues to hover at 6.8 per cent – which represents an improvement of 0.2 per cent from October as workers who were put aside by their employers at the start of the pandemic returned to their duties represented a portion of those responsible for the improved numbers.

However, as the union movement and the Australian workforce continue to struggle with the impact of the current state of unemployed and under-employed as well as those embroiled in a spate of insecure jobs, Connolly also cites the recent resurgence of positive COVID-19 cases in New South Wales and Victoria as another factor as to why Morrison and Frydenberg would have been justified to delay the current round of cuts.

In fact, Connolly and the ACTU claim that the failure to even consider this action revealed a lack of proper initiative on the part of the government.

“With COVID-19 resurging in NSW and the national economic crisis far from over, cutting economic support to millions of struggling Australians is also an extremely irresponsible act,” Connolly said.

Bill Shorten, the former leader of the Labor party now serving Anthony Albanese’s shadow government as its minister for government services, concurs that the timing is poor to go ahead with the scheduled cuts.

“The government should reconsider it,” Shorten told Nine’s Today program on December 29.

“We are not out of the woods yet with this pandemic and the economic effects. They are reverberating around the economy, especially in regional towns and suburbs where there are a lot of casual workers who have bourne the biggest brunt.

“For the less well off, we shouldn’t be cutting their circumstances at this point in time,” Shorten added.

Youth unemployment remains another factor which the unions and government figures alike are grappling with, as the recent round of cuts will likely hit workers aged 16-to-24 years of age even worse.

According to the ABS in its November statistics on employment, youth unemployment currently sits at 15.6 per cent – and noting a 12-month increase of 4.1 per cent over the year before – and while that figure calculates to more than double of the national general rate of unemployment, fears abound of what impact that may have on the economy.

Especially when disabling demographics of people who are otherwise motivated to spend money to inspire a struggling economy.

“Cutting the rates of JobKeeper and JobSeeker is only going to worsen the impact of the coronavirus crisis on young workers and our community. We need jobs, not cuts,” Young Workers Centre manager Arian McVeigh said back in September, when the first cuts to JobSeeker and JobKeeper were on the eve of occurring.

 

Arian McVeigh, manager of the Young Workers Centre, who warned about the impact of JobSeeker and JobKeeper cuts back in September (Photo from abc.net.au)

 

Moreover, when the initial JobSeeker and JobKeeper cuts took effect, it was forecast to stifle the Australian economy by $31.2 billion according to a joint report from economics analysis firm Deloitte and the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) – and while real figures to confirm the degree of impact have yet to be released, agreements range widely outside of government figures which confirm that consumers lack the confidence to spend money.

Advocates for the “Raise The Rate For Good” hashtag trending across social media would claim that a move to raising the old NewStart rate permanently – which has not occurred since 1994 – would help restore that confidence.

And while the ACTU has pushed for that payment to resemble the original JobSeeker amount, Labor ministers such as Shorten and Linda Burney, the ALP’s shadow minister for families and social services, have vowed to attack the issue when Parliament sits for the first time in 2021 next month before the current rate of JobSeeker and JobKeeper subsidies are set to expire at the end of March.

“Around two million Australians will be impacted by the government’s scheduled cut to the coronavirus supplement next March,” Burney said last month when announcing a similar bill to the upper house.

“Returning unemployment support to the old base rate places millions of Australians at risk of hardship and jeopardises local jobs,” added Burney.

 

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Qantas workers cannot be denied sick leave, says ACTU

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), in keeping with their reputation to doing anything to ensure that the nation’s workers receive their proper contractual award obligations, is going to the High Court to win sick leave entitlements for the workers of Qantas.

According to Scott Connolly, the ACTU’s assistant national secretary, the airline giant colloquially known as an Australian icon, and the giant red kangaroo logo usually being the first thing tourists entering Australia see when they go through the nation’s airports, has not been extending the sick leave entitlement to its employees for a number of years.

In some cases, it has been decades of Qantas workers allowing their sick leave entitlements to accrue, mainly due to the failure of Qantas’s front offices and human resources divisions to invoke its duty of care to extend those entitlements to employees who need it most.

One such hard-hit case is that of Peter Seymour, a 31-year Qantas veteran push-back/aircraft driver based at Sydney Airport who has been battling cancer since receiving his diagnosis a year ago, saying that the company has failed to pay out a single cent of his sick leave entitlement.

“I love my job but that was a huge smack in the face,” Seymour said on Wednesday, as the ACTU was announcing its High Court action with multi-union backing on behalf of the workers of Qantas.

“I was treated just like a number [by the company].

“I could not stay on JobKeeper because I’ve got bills to pay, so I was forced to take redundancy from the company. I’ve just turned 64 and I still have to work, I now have to find a job” despite his cancer diagnosis, Seymour added.

Instead, Seymour had to suffer the further indignity of being contacted by the company via an e-mail that he was being made redundant and forced onto the JobKeeper stimulus – which possesses a much lower rate to award to him than a payout from Qantas – in place of any accrued sick leave entitlement.

“Qantas’ behaviour toward the most unwell people in its workforce has been callous and illegal,” said Connolly, who also cited the case of one other unnamed Qantas employee who after receiving a diagnosis of heart disease, was also given the same fate by the airline company.

“That’s why we fully support this bid to have this matter heard in the High Court,” added Connolly.

The case – being brought under the auspices of the law firm of Maurice Blackburn on behalf of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), all unions with vested interests among Qantas’s workforce – has found its way to the High Court after being rejected in the Federal Court last month.

Maurice Blackburn employment law principal Giri Sivaraman and the ACTU were united in agreement that this case being presided over by the High Court is bound to leave a precedent on workers’ rights cases over any sort of leave entitlements for years to come.

“We say that you can’t stand someone down who is on sick leave, and if you can’t stand them down then you can’t withhold sick leave payments from them,” Sivaraman said outside the High Court in Canberra.

“This appeal is not just important for Qantas employees who’ve been unfairly denied access to their own sick, compassionate, personal or carer’s leave, it’s critical to all workers in Australia who may be stood down in the future,” added Connolly.

As expected, Seymour’s union, the TWU, is not only backing him but potentially countless others whose entitlements may become denied to them by any employer, and not one with the wealth of Qantas.

“Qantas has received over $800 million in [JobKeeper] taxpayers’ support to help it during the pandemic but instead of acting like a responsible employer in return it is trashing lives and trashing jobs,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, whose company has received $800 million in government funding, JobKeeper and otherwise, during the pandemic. (Photo from abc.net.au)

And Kaine believes that any sort of government stipends, stimulus endeavours or other fundings should come with a strict set of terms and conditions, especially when workers’ lives and well-being remains at stake.

“Denying sick workers the leave they have built up and pushing them in some case out of their jobs in order to access redundancy payments to pay bills is utterly despicable.

“The Federal Government could tie conditions to the public money it is pumping into Qantas to force it to act responsibly but it is choosing not to,” added Kaine.

The other unions involved in the ACTU’s case remain resolute and defiant in fighting the case on behalf of all of its workers past, present and future.

“We make no apology for continuing our pursuit to right these wrongs. This is another very important step in the fight to ensure every worker in this country can access their sick leave when they need it most,” said Allen Hicks, the national secretary of the ETU.

“It adds insult to injury for sick Qantas workers who now have to defend their right to sick leave entitlements in the High Court,” said Steve Murphy, the national secretary of the AMWU, who added that the fight in the High Court amid Qantas’s decision could not come at a worse time in 2020.

“Essential workers stepped up during the year from hell, now Qantas is out-of-control, leaving it’s sick workers behind during their time of need – at Christmas,” said Murphy.

 

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